The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

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The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby Jimbee68 on November 19th, 2016, 11:45 am 

Utilitarianism is the belief, the highest good, that we should all strive for, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Happiness can be defined in terms of pure pleasure, though some theories allow in other factors too.

It is also not that rare of a theory for modern philosophers to propose. J. J. C. Smart was a Australian philosopher and defender of utilitarianism. He also was an ethical nihilist.

Anyways, I can think of at least one problem with utilitarianism. Why do these people think it is their job to make everyone happy? What if someone doesn't want to be happy? What if they want to be miserable? Shouldn't that be their choice too?

That actually, I think, is what is really what human beings and human societies should strive for. The freedom for every human being, to live their lives, and do as they wish, as long as it does not harm the rights or well-being of other humans, or sentient creatures.

I have also come up with a hypothetical example, to illustrate my point.

The year is 2553. And humans live in a perfect utopian society. No crime. No disease. No pain of any kind. But there is just one fly in the ointment, in all of this. The past. Humans didn't always live this way. War. Famine. The Spanish Inquisition. You get the idea. So the perfectly benevolent, totally utilitarian, government deals with this problem by rewriting history. Famine? Never happened. Spanish Inquisition? What Spanish Inquisition? That never happened either, as far as these utopians know.

But many humans believe it their right to know what the past was like. To know humans past mistakes, and learn from them. So what business does this allegedly utopian government have, in thinking they can rewrite history, just to spare our feelings?

I trust I have made my point. What do the rest of you think?

:)
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby vivian maxine on November 19th, 2016, 12:23 pm 

I once read - and really stopped to ponder for a long while - a comment that having problems to solve is what keeps life interesting and, without problems to solve, we would all atrophy from boredom. Gracious! We couldn't even read a good novel. Every good novel has a problem to be solved. Without that problem, if falls flat for lack of interest. Boredom. There would be no challenges; hence no fun in achieving. I think educationists can tell you what happened to the idea of keeping all the students - and their parents - happy.

Being happy (totally satisfied with life) just might create a few problems for us to solve starting with boredom and an atrophied brain.
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby Eclogite on November 19th, 2016, 1:06 pm 

Jimbee68 » Sat Nov 19, 2016 3:45 pm wrote:Anyways, I can think of at least one problem with utilitarianism. Why do these people think it is their job to make everyone happy? What if someone doesn't want to be happy? What if they want to be miserable? Shouldn't that be their choice too?
This does not appear to be a problem. Their happiness would be indulging in misery and therefore this would be the objective of a Utilitarian approach.

It is akin to the imagined conversation:

Masochist: Hit me.
Sadist: No.
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby edy420 on July 15th, 2017, 7:52 am 

Being miserable comes with the risk of self harm/termination which contradicts your goal of no harm to sentient creatures.

Which means, to achieve your goal, we need to make everyone happy.

I'm no utilitarian, but it's a flaw I noticed in your argument.
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby thinker4life on July 29th, 2017, 8:13 pm 

Jimbee68 » November 19th, 2016, 10:45 am wrote:Utilitarianism is the belief, the highest good, that we should all strive for, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Happiness can be defined in terms of pure pleasure, though some theories allow in other factors too.

It is also not that rare of a theory for modern philosophers to propose. J. J. C. Smart was a Australian philosopher and defender of utilitarianism. He also was an ethical nihilist.

Anyways, I can think of at least one problem with utilitarianism. Why do these people think it is their job to make everyone happy? What if someone doesn't want to be happy? What if they want to be miserable? Shouldn't that be their choice too?

That actually, I think, is what is really what human beings and human societies should strive for. The freedom for every human being, to live their lives, and do as they wish, as long as it does not harm the rights or well-being of other humans, or sentient creatures.

I have also come up with a hypothetical example, to illustrate my point.

The year is 2553. And humans live in a perfect utopian society. No crime. No disease. No pain of any kind. But there is just one fly in the ointment, in all of this. The past. Humans didn't always live this way. War. Famine. The Spanish Inquisition. You get the idea. So the perfectly benevolent, totally utilitarian, government deals with this problem by rewriting history. Famine? Never happened. Spanish Inquisition? What Spanish Inquisition? That never happened either, as far as these utopians know.

But many humans believe it their right to know what the past was like. To know humans past mistakes, and learn from them. So what business does this allegedly utopian government have, in thinking they can rewrite history, just to spare our feelings?

I trust I have made my point. What do the rest of you think?

:)


Jimbee68 - you pose a very interesting question and one that resonates with me personally, for two reasons:
1) I'm a utilitarian, but haven't thought about the counterexamples enough to be convinced its the best way to do things (your question made me think a little more about it)
2) I agree with you that freedom of the individual so long as the individual doesn't prevent another individual from living the life they want to live is one of the most important things we should strive for.

I'm going to make an argument that these two things are compatible, and that utilitarianism actually is the right thing to strive for, and that the way to do it is through #2 above.

I'd say that most people are happiest when they have as much freedom as possible, and if each human respects other humans and sentient beings, and respects their desire to maintain their own freedom and way of life, we are through that methodology actually achieving the highest good for the most people. So I think your proposed way of life actually fulfills utilitarianism's highest goal in the best way possible (in fact its rule #3 of my life philosophy, where lower numbers are more important / take precedence, which is my best guidance on how to achieve utilitarianism).

I'd also say that in your hypothetical argument of a futuristic society, that if your proposed government's erasing of history was their way of 'hiding pain', that they were not actually achieving utilitarianism, because I think more people would feel pride at having overcome the harsh realities of the past and accomplished a society like the one you describe - with near absolute freedom for the individual, so long as it doesn't impose on another individual's freedom - where there is no disease, etc... knowledge of the history would actually make all of society happier and thus if this utopian government really had the populations best interests in mind, they would teach accurate history... The truth is, the truth is hard to hide, and it comes out one way or another eventually... People who try to hide the truth are not seeking utilitarianism, they're seeking to improve their own life at the expense of the truth... Utilitarianism comes from openness, honesty, transparency, respect, etc...

Does this resonate with you OP?

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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby Eclogite on July 30th, 2017, 12:31 am 

Jimbee68 » Sat Nov 19, 2016 3:45 pm wrote: Spanish Inquisition? What Spanish Inquisition? That never happened either, as far as these utopians know.
If Jimbee ever returns I should like to know if the above passage was a subtle way of saying, "No one suspects the Spanish Inquisition." If so, kudos!
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby jocular on July 30th, 2017, 4:27 am 

Why should Utilitarianism be measured against the requirements of a utopian (aka unrealistic) society?


Perhaps Utilitarianism is just one of a medley of approaches to deal with outcomes that shift all the while and just one way of enabling the best approximative outcome.

Is Utilitarianism more of a statistical approach that breaks down in intimate situations ?(the individual's relation to his or her immediate entourage)

No philosophical training or education -perhaps it shows;)
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby thinker4life on July 30th, 2017, 8:05 am 

jocular » July 30th, 2017, 3:27 am wrote:Why should Utilitarianism be measured against the requirements of a utopian (aka unrealistic) society?


Perhaps Utilitarianism is just one of a medley of approaches to deal with outcomes that shift all the while and just one way of enabling the best approximative outcome.

Is Utilitarianism more of a statistical approach that breaks down in intimate situations ?(the individual's relation to his or her immediate entourage)

No philosophical training or education -perhaps it shows;)


I personally think Utopia is something achievable and that we should strive for, dismissing it because it sounds too good to be true as too good to be true is pessimistic.

That said, I agree with your perspective that utilitarianism is just a way of maximizing good and saying we want "the best outcome for the most people as possible"

I think I found a way to both "break" and "fix" utilitarianism...

Here's an example of where I think utilitarinism breaks down:

Suppose the majority of 90% of the population votes to enslave an arbitrarily decided 10% of the population. 90% of society is happy because they have free slave labor, and one could argue their happiness outweighs the unhappiness of the 10% of slaves (suppose they're treated relatively well, but still slaves without freedom). I hope most of us would agree this isn't the best outcome.

How to fix it? Seek utilitarianism with 2 rules in place
1. Equal respect for all human beings (with some respect for all sentient beings)
2. Let everyone live the life they want to live so long as they don't prevent others from living the type of life they want to live. When there's a conflict, refer to rule #1 -- whoever cares the most wins.

Utilitarianism with these two rules in place seems fairly Utopic to me.

What do you all think?
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby jocular on July 30th, 2017, 8:43 am 

thinker4life » July 30th, 2017, 8:05 am wrote:I personally think Utopia is something achievable and that we should strive for, dismissing it because it sounds too good to be true as too good to be true is pessimistic.

That said, I agree with your perspective that utilitarianism is just a way of maximizing good and saying we want "the best outcome for the most people as possible"

I think I found a way to both "break" and "fix" utilitarianism...

Here's an example of where I think utilitarinism breaks down:

Suppose the majority of 90% of the population votes to enslave an arbitrarily decided 10% of the population. 90% of society is happy because they have free slave labor, and one could argue their happiness outweighs the unhappiness of the 10% of slaves (suppose they're treated relatively well, but still slaves without freedom). I hope most of us would agree this isn't the best outcome.

How to fix it? Seek utilitarianism with 2 rules in place
1. Equal respect for all human beings (with some respect for all sentient beings)
2. Let everyone live the life they want to live so long as they don't prevent others from living the type of life they want to live. When there's a conflict, refer to rule #1 -- whoever cares the most wins.

Utilitarianism with these two rules in place seems fairly Utopic to me.

What do you all think?


"Fairly Utopic"can easily be seen as a tautology.

I feel Utilitarianism should not be pushed too far. Where it runs out of steam, look to another system of thought to step in.

The example (slave society) you bring up is not new (although to deliberately reintroduce it might be very novel)

I was informed when I was young that working for a living was tantamount to "wage slavery". I still do not know how much of that is a true analysis.

What is unlikely to change is our acceptance of short term loss for medium term gain....
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Re: The Best Argument Against Utilitarianism.

Postby thinker4life on July 30th, 2017, 9:29 am 

jocular » July 30th, 2017, 7:43 am wrote:
thinker4life » July 30th, 2017, 8:05 am wrote:I personally think Utopia is something achievable and that we should strive for, dismissing it because it sounds too good to be true as too good to be true is pessimistic.

That said, I agree with your perspective that utilitarianism is just a way of maximizing good and saying we want "the best outcome for the most people as possible"

I think I found a way to both "break" and "fix" utilitarianism...

Here's an example of where I think utilitarinism breaks down:

Suppose the majority of 90% of the population votes to enslave an arbitrarily decided 10% of the population. 90% of society is happy because they have free slave labor, and one could argue their happiness outweighs the unhappiness of the 10% of slaves (suppose they're treated relatively well, but still slaves without freedom). I hope most of us would agree this isn't the best outcome.

How to fix it? Seek utilitarianism with 2 rules in place
1. Equal respect for all human beings (with some respect for all sentient beings)
2. Let everyone live the life they want to live so long as they don't prevent others from living the type of life they want to live. When there's a conflict, refer to rule #1 -- whoever cares the most wins.

Utilitarianism with these two rules in place seems fairly Utopic to me.

What do you all think?


"Fairly Utopic"can easily be seen as a tautology.


Why do you see it as a tautology? I mean if you agree that utilitarian with those two rules is synonymous with Utopia, I suppose I'm flattered... it was my goal to convey that, is that what you meant? Ascribing the label of "fairly utopic" to utiliitarian and those two rules isn't a tautology in my opinion, as there's a significant logical connection you need to make from utilitarianism and the two rules to utopia... like I said, though, if you bridged that gap intuitively more power to you and I'm glad we're in agreement.

I feel Utilitarianism should not be pushed too far. Where it runs out of steam, look to another system of thought to step in.

The example (slave society) you bring up is not new (although to deliberately reintroduce it might be very novel)

I was informed when I was young that working for a living was tantamount to "wage slavery". I still do not know how much of that is a true analysis.

What is unlikely to change is our acceptance of short term loss for medium term gain....


There is a good way to get people to accept short term loss for medium term gain, if you're in a position of power or one of the people determining the incentive system these people get... Make their incentive returns based on the medium term... Game theory indicates that people will take the short term hit if their reward isn't given to them until the medium term finishes, because they recognize the short term hit will return a better return when they're rewarded.

I'd argue many of societies problems are the result of the wrong incentive systems... the 2008 financial crises was largely due to the wrong incentive systems with lack of regulation... the wells fargo scandal was about managers setting up unrealistic and extremely aggressive incentive systems... Incentive systems are largely undervalued and extremely important. Does this make sense?
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